Operation "Totalise" account by Major A McKinnon
Normandy, August 1944
An Account by Major A McKinnon MC, 7th Argylls
Written on 23rd August 1944
On August 3rd. Commanding Officers were called to Bde for a conference where they were given the outline plan of the above operation in which 154 Bde were to play a prominent part. This plan was as follows.
51 Div. under the command of the Canadian Army and in conjunction with the 3rd Canadian Div. on their right were to make a deep penetration by night into the enemy posns due South of Caen and on gaining their objectives, strong Armoured formations were to pass through and make for Falaise and the South East. The operation was to be supported by very heavy bombing of the flanks and a medium barrage moving forward 100x in 1 minute. Various aids to keeping direction were to be used such as Bofors firing along the flanks and the artillery firing green lights onto the objectives. 154 Brigade were chosen as the spear head of the Division and each Bn. was to have one Armoured Regt. in support together with the various other supporting arms. The infantry were to be mounted on hard skinned vehs, half tracks and "Priests", with the guns removed. The order of march was 1 B.W. on the left, 7 A.&.S.H. on the right and 7 B.W. following 7 A.&.S.H. Objectives, St.Aignan, Cramesnil and Garcelles respectively. This entailed an advance into the enemy lines to a depth of approx 5000 metres. The Canadians were given objectives parallel to us on the right.
Obviously an operation of this nature required a lot of teeing up and practice on the ground and time was limited, the attack being scheduled to take place on the night of Tuesday 8th August. The first practice of forming up the column was not carried out until Saturday 5th August as the vehicles were not forthcoming until then which was only understandable as it must have required some pretty quick staff work to gather the vehs together, remove the guns from the "Priests" etc and get them out to Bns. A further practice was carried out that night in the Le Bissey area. We had by this time been told that the operation was to be put forward 24 hours to fit in with the bigger picture and so on Sunday 6th the Bn moved to its concentration area in the Powder Factory at Cormelles, South if Caen. There it was joined by the 144 R.T.R. who were to support us. During the night we were shelled by a heavy gun (probably 210 mm) and "B" Coy suffered 2 killed and ten wounded.
Morning of 7th August was spent tying up the final details, briefing the men, etc: and at 2100 hours the coln. started to form up just South of Cormelles . The order of march was as follows:
Two tps if tanks of "A" Sqn. four abreast with a navigator in each tp., 5 tps Flails in line ahead, R.E. Party, AVRE's, two armoured Bull dozers, SqnH.Q. of the tanks and the remains of "A" Sqn. Then followed another Sqn of tanks, the infantry Block and finally the reserve Sqn. of tanks. In all this comprised a very considerable number of vehs and, nose to back, the column stretched about 600 yds.
The forming up was carried out successfully at last light and the coln. moved off at about 2250 hrs to cross the S.L. by 2330. Bn. H.Q. were rather put out of their stride by the C.O's half track refusing to budge so he had to transfer to the 2 i/c's which was behind.
The barrage started at 2300 hrs and the bombing on the flanks about the same time and I believe the noise was terrific. Perhaps fortunately most of this was lost to us as our vehs effectively drowned most of it. Bombing was most accurate and no mistakes were made by the R.A.F.
All went well for about the first mile but then the column began to get rather spread out and vehs were no longer in station. About half way to the objective three of the leading tanks and a flail disappeared into a huge crater. The unfortunate part was that the tanks in question contained the navigators and there was considerable delay. It was here that the first enemy were met and "B" Coy came under fire from a Spandau and several hand grenades were thrown at one troop carrier, one landing inside which was promptly picked up and thrown out by Pte. Jarvie of "H.Q." Coy. (Sigs). Capt. Bate when dismounting to deal with this post was seriously wounded and had to be left behind in charge of a stretcher bearer (Pte. Cameron). The post was soon dealt with, 2 Germans being killed and 3 taken prisoner and the column started on. A rly. then had to be crossed and this further disrupted the coln. From here to the debussing pt. things were pretty confused with a few tanks burning here and there and Spandau fire on all sides. The debussing pt. was reached at about 0400 hrs and "B" Coy. collected itself by degrees and moved off to its objective which was the rear of the village of Cramesnil. This it took without much trouble, killing 5 Germans (incl. a C.S.M.) and taking seven prisoners. "A" Coy whose objective was rt. and forward of "B" Coy arrived at the debussing pt. in driblets as did "D" Coy who were to go left and forward of "B" Coy. However, both Coys soon collected themselves and reached their objectives successfully, this despite a heavy ground mist. "A" Coy had the stiffest opposition and Capt. McElwee and one other rank were killed attacking a Spandau post. By 0500 the Bn. had completed its job with eight Germans killed and about 35 taken prisoner. Consolidation was carried out and all was set for the expected counter attack. Bn. H.Q. was established in "B" Coy area and the tanks and S.P. guns were forward in support of the rifle Coys. Casualties were slight, being 1 Offr and 2 O.R's killed, 1 Offr wounded and 18 O.R's wounded. Eight tanks were knocked out and Major Lovibond, 2 i/c of the Regt. and their Sigs. Officer were killed, their tank being set on fire by a German "bazooka", on entering Cramesnil.
Meanwhile "A" Coy were in touch with the Canadians on their rt. and "D" with 1 B.W. on their left, both having gained their objectives and the situation looked pretty heartening.
The expected counter attack developed at approx 0900 hrs on the 1 B.W. front. A number of Tiger tanks and about 200 infantry appeared but the mediums put down a terrific D.F. and tanks with inf on board were soon making off South. The Northhants Yeo. who were supporting 1 B.W. had a good morning knocking out 16 Tigers to a loss of 18 of their own tanks which they rightly considered a fair exchange. We had ample evidence that our 17 pounder will mince meat of the Tiger if hit on the side plates.
At 1200 hrs 600 American heavy bombers came over to support the move forward of the Armour who were to pass through at 1400 hrs. One stick landed in front of "D" Coy but caused no casualties. We later heard that two flights had mistaken their target to such a degree as to heavily bomb the Canadians near Cormelles causing very heavy casualties.
For the remainder of the day the Bn suffered pretty heavy shelling but at last light this ceased. The Canadian Armour was reported to have pushed well but the Polish Armd Div was not so successful and did not get on very far. We cursed them heartily at the time but on going over the ground later there was little doubt from the number of Shermans burnt out that they had had a pretty sticky time.
The Bn. remained in CRAMESNIL on the 9th August and on the following day received orders to move forward to attack some woods South of St. Sylvain which was the held by 153 Bde. This was a fairly prominent feature about 1,200 metres south east of the village and very densely wooded. Little information was available regarding the enemy and the plan was that 7 A.&.S.H. would attack and secure the left side of the wood, followed by 1 B.W who were to take the right hand side. Polish Armour was expected to pass through at approx. mid-day and push south. Zero hour was 0015 hrs and the Bn got on to its S.P without much difficulty, getting through St. Sylvain between the stonks and at the appointed time, moved off with "A" Coy rt, "D" Coy left, the Bn H.Q and "B" Coy in reserve. A Sqn of tanks was to join Coys at first light, also some S.P. guns. I should have mentioned previously that owing to the manpower situation it was found necessary for operation "Totalise" to reduce the Bn to three strong Coys and "C"Coy being weakest at the time, was temporarily split up between the other three.
Very shortly after crossing the S.L. pretty intense Spandau fire opened up from in front and on the flanks. Germans could be heard shouting encouragement to each other (or that's what we thought it was) and their 2" mortars were quite active. The forward Coys were beginning to get casualties, particularly "D" Coy, but pressed on and eventually got to their objective. 1 B.W had rather an easier passage on the rt and also took their objective. The advance was not a pleasant one for the fwd Coys and they showed great determination in a very difficult and unpleasant operation, with resistance heavier than expected. At first light prisoners started to come in and about 40 in all were captured that night. A bunch of sixteen were fired on by a Spandau which killed one and wounded three which we thought a typical German trick. O.C. "B" Coy with the help of two tanks soon dealt with this post. An unfortunate accident occurred at this juncture when one of the tanks opened up, the shell sticking a tree about a foot from the muzzle, exploding and killing Cpl. Laird of "B"Coy and another man.
The Bn objective that night was approx. the near half of the large square wood and at first light the forward Coys were to clear up to the forward edge and this was carried out successfully.
At about 1200 hrs on 11th Aug "A"Coy reported a counter-attack developing on their front which was accompanied by very heavy shelling and mortaring. About 200 inf. attacked on three separated occasions but each time they were pushed back. When the German inf saw that there was stiff resistance, they soon lost heart and one complete Pl with Officer surrendered to 1 B.W. A number of prisoners straggled in ones and twos throughout the action. Reports also came in of single Tiger tanks, but apart from firing occasional A.P. shots, they took little active part. Our supporting tanks knocked out one of these. "A"Coy, under Major Sloan had a very anxious day and put up a very good show, despite reduced numbers, the Coy strength by this time being one Officer and approx. 45 O.R.'s. The heavy mortaring in the dense wood was particularly trying to all three Coys. Meantime "B"Coy was ordered to send up one pl to support "A"Coy and shortly afterwards a Coy of 5 B.W. came under command and the whole of "B"Coy was pushed up to the woods behind "A"Coy. The rest of the day was uneventful except for the normal mortaring.
12th Aug. On the rt the Poles were carrying out a recce in force in front of 1 B.W and pushed down to (Bu sur Rousses) where they captured 200 prisoners. However a counter attack developed and the Poles came out quickly leaving their 200 prisoners behind.
In the afternoon the Derby Yeo and some Canadian Recce moved to the ridge on our left and there found pretty stiff resistance. They shot the place up pretty heavily and then withdrew back.
At 1700 hrs the Brig informed the C.O. that 7 B.W would relieve the Bn that night and this was carried out without incident.
The Bn was ordered back to Cramesnil to take in reinforcements and refit. Casualties had been pretty heavy. 8 Officers wounded, 18 O.R's killed and 71 wounded. The Officers wounded were Capt. Porteous, Lieut. Chapman, Lieut. Lieu Archibald, Lieut. Cowling, Lieut. Austin, Lieut. White, Lieut. Twinbarrow, the last two having only joined the Bn the day previously. Fortunately none were seriously hit.
The Div Comd came to see the Bn the following day and congratulated them on having put up a very good show.
On 13th Aug 150 reinforcements of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Reg joined us and were sent out to Rifle Coys.